Vincenzo Bellini (born Catania, 3 November 1801; died Puteaux, nr Paris, 23 September 1835)
French novel L’étrangère (1825) by Charles-Victor Prévost d’Arlincourt.
First performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 14 February 1829.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 23 June 1832.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 31 August 1972.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.
La straniera is Bellini’s fourth opera, and after the success of Il pirata was the second to have its premiere at La Scala. Initially it also met with considerable success, but with the decline in popularity of the bel canto school it disappeared until its revival at Catania in 1954. The next staging at Palermo in 1968 was brought to Edinburgh in 1972. It is an enjoyable piece with dramatic situations and a range of interesting music. However the libretto is not one of Romani’s better efforts and the plot is not well worked out. There is one noticeably modern aspect to the composition in that there is a relative lack of solo showpiece arias for the principal characters.
Agnese of Pomerania, disguised as Alaide (soprano).
Leopoldo, Agnese’s brother, disguised as Baron Valdeburgo (baritone).
Arturo, Count of Ravenstel (tenor).
Isoletta, betrothed to Arturo (soprano).
The Duke of Montolino, Isoletta’s father (bass).
Osburgo, Arturo’s friend (tenor).
Prior of the Hospitallers (bass).
Prior to the start of the opera, around 1300, the King of France, having married Agnes of Pomerania, is instructed by the Pope to repudiate her, on the basis that he was previously contracted to marry Isemberga. Agnes, under the guardianship of her brother Leopold is banished to live in isolation in Brittany, under disguised names. The local people become highly suspicious of this stranger, suspecting her of witchcraft. Arturo, already betrothed to Isoletta, daughter of the local overlord, has fallen in love with Alaide, and when he finds her in a secret meeting with Valdeburgo, he becomes jealous and the two men fight, whereupon Valdeburgo is wounded and falls into the lake. He is believed drowned, and Alaide is immediately accused of his murder. In the second act she is put on trial by the angry populace in spite of Arturo’s confession, but the appearance of Valdeburgo, safe and well, brings proceedings to an end in the nick of time. The marriage of Arturo to Isoletta is therefore able to proceed, but news arrives that Queen Isemberga has died, and Agnese must return to Paris as Queen. There is general consternation at the revelation of the stranger’s identity, and Arturo, already driven mad by the confusion of his situation, now stabs himself.
OPERA RARA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 2007
Conductor: David Parry
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Patrizia Ciofi (Alaide), Dario Schmunk (Arturo), Mark Stone (Valdeburgo).
This is the only studio recording of La straniera and it is generally thoroughly recommendable. David Parry conducts an excellent LPO in a lively and dramatic style which makes the most of all the situations Bellini and Romani provide. The tenor Dario Schmunk and baritone Mark Stone sing beautifully and give involved performances. Patrizia Ciofi sings sweetly throughout, and the only moment of doubt about her performance comes in her cabaletta right at the end as she accepts that she must again become Queen. It really needs more power than she can yet command. Excellent support comes from Enkelejda Shkosa as Isoletta, Roland Wood (her father) and Graeme Broadbent (the Prior). The presentation of their recordings by Opera Rara gets better and better, and the booklet is full of fascinating detail and illustrations.
MYTO (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1968
Conductor: Nino Sanzogno
Orchestra of Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Renata Scotto (Alaide), Renato Cioni (Arturo), Domenico Trimarchi (Valdeburgo).
La straniera was neglected by most of the major sopranos of the bel canto revival. Callas, it seems, took the score as holiday reading on the Onassis yacht, but never sang it. Sutherland recorded the entrance duet, Caballé sang a single concert performance in New York (also available on CD), but it sounds very under-rehearsed. It was left to Renata Scotto to bring it to the stage, and she does a wonderful job, creating a performance full of pathos while still having a voice able to ride the orchestra in her final memorable aria and cabaletta sequence (the melody of which sticks obstinately in the head). This is a recording of that Palermo production. Excellent performances come from Trimarchi (remembered more as a buffo baritone) and Elena Zilio, who sounds lovely in Isoletta’s aria (moved to the opening of the opera, rather than the opening of the final scene). Renato Cioni had a brief career, but this performance shows him on good form, before his voice was overstrained. He was the only one of the main principals not to come to Edinburgh in 1972, when they made an excellent impression (rather better than the other two operas brought from Palermo).
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